Dry Counties vs. Wet Counties

Did you know that more than 200 counties across America are dry? The term dry refers to areas that prohibit the sale of alcohol in any form. Other towns may be “mixed” or “moist” meaning some of the counties may allow it and other parts do not.

The history of dry counties dates back to the prohibition era, and since its repeal in the 1930s, each town or municipality has the right to choose for itself if alcohol may be consumed or sold within its borders. The present decision to sell or not to sell alcohol is often based on religious ideology in certain parts of the country.

U.S. Dry and Wet Counties: The Impact on Crime, Arrests, and Crashes

It is interesting to note the impact that a dry versus wet county has on crime, arrests, and driving violations. In some cases, dry towns have fewer DWIs and lower violent crime rates. However, the newest problem cropping up all over America’s dry counties is increased drug use.

In dry towns where neighboring counties allow alcohol, there may be slightly higher rates of driving under the influence violations, but they generally occur because the perpetrator has to cross county lines to drink and then back home.

Arkansas has been at battle over the wet/dry issue for years with 37 of their 75 counties being dry. The heated debate comes up often at town meetings, and votes are cast, but it seems that the majority has spoken and most Arkansas residents like things the way they are. One report claims that when the doors to selling alcohol are opened, crime rates “skyrocket.” Although that term may be an exaggeration, some studies do show that areas without bars or access to liquor do have fewer incidents of crime, fewer arrests, and DUIs.

Wet versus dry counties does not seem to affect the rate of alcohol-related car crashes. However, interestingly enough in wet counties, the accidents occur closer to home whereas the dry counties, more car crashes are experienced further from home. These results indicate that drivers of dry counties are driving to wet counties to consume and purchase alcohol.

Dry or Wet?

About 10% of the country is dry, mostly southern states impose bans where religious themes prevail. 33 states allow laws prohibiting the sale of liquor, but they still may not have any dry communities.

Alabama has 25 dry or moist counties, and 42 are wet.
Alaska lets each community decide to be wet or dry.
Arkansas has 75 counties, and of those, 35 are dry, and the rest are wet. The sale of alcohol is prohibited on Sundays in all provinces.
Arizona doesn’t allow dry communities of any.
Connecticut has no dry counties at all.
Georgia is all wet except for specific stipulations in 11 counties regarding distilled spirits and on-site consumption.
Illinois is very wet except for a couple of counties, but their state liquor laws are very strict throughout the state.
Texas has only six counties that are dry.
Kansas is a wet state in all but 19 counties and kept prohibition the longest.
Kentucky has a mixed bag of 38 dry counties, 49 moist and the rest wet.
Massachusetts has only eight dry towns, but some like Rockport allow alcohol to be served only when patrons are consuming a full meal.
Michigan held out until 2007 when its final dry town reversed the law, and now the state is entirely wet.
Minnesota - aside from Red Lake Indian Reservation, the entire state is wet, and you can purchase liquor on Sundays in liquor stores now.
Mississippi has about 31 dry towns within the 82 counties in the state.
Nevada has only one dry city, Panaca, which was initially a Mormon colony.
New Hampshire also has only one town, Ellsworth that is dry.
New Jersey has no dry towns, but some municipalities prohibit the retail sale of alcohol.
New Mexico has two counties that are dry except for one town each.
New York has nine fully dry towns and another 39 partially dry cities.
North Carolina has strict rules about selling alcohol between specific hours and has some dry counties as well.
Ohio has a handful of counties that are dry, but within them, each town decides for themselves.
Oregon had one last dry town until 2003, and now the state prohibits any dry counties.
Pennsylvania has no dry counties, but some municipalities are dry.
South Carolina has no dry counties but prohibits selling alcohol on Sundays.
Tennessee has a few scattered dry cities throughout the state.
Texas has six completely dry counties, 195 partially dry and 55 are entirely wet.
Virginia still has ten counties that are dry; the rest are wet.
Washington - since 2015 has no dry counties remaining.
Wisconsin has only one town left, Ephraim that is completely dry and has been since 1853.

Crime Rate and Arrests

Although proponents of dry towns express safety concerns, crime rates and arrests do not always drop with the elimination of alcohol. In fact, in some states, the DUI arrests actually rise as residents travel to neighboring communities to drink and then home after they are drunk.

Not all communities that prohibit the sale of liquor have high crime rates and higher arrests. In some cases, the driving arrests decrease, and in others, they stay the same. It depends on the area, the resident population and other factors unrelated to alcohol.

Some areas of the country do experience a decrease in crime and arrests going dry, but because of all the variables statistics do not support the connection as an overall fact nationwide.

DUI Related Crashes

Every 50 minutes in America someone dies from an alcohol-related car crash. DUI-related crashes account for 28% of all deaths in American each year. Alcohol-impaired driving costs the U.S. $44 billion/year in damages and medical fees.

It stands to reason that if a community is dry and the residents are less inclined to travel to get liquor that community will experience fewer DUI-related car crashes and deaths.

However, one study showed that in Kentucky 39,000 alcohol-related deaths occurred from residents driving far from home to get liquor because they lived in dry communities. Other studies support the idea that if people have to drive further from home to drink, there is a much higher chance of them getting into an alcohol-related car crash.

In wet counties, residents have much shorter distances to drive, thus less opportunity of a car crash while intoxicated.

DUI Arrests

Roughly 1.5 million people are arrested every year due to driving while intoxicated. That figure equates to one in every 121 drivers is a DUI waiting to happen. Shockingly 40% of our nation’s homicide rate is also linked to drinking alcohol. 8.5% of people arrested for a DUI already have one or more priors.

There is no doubt that alcohol contributes drastically to America’s crime rates. Intoxicated drivers are 1.4 times more likely to be in an accident than someone who is not.

In many towns that are dry, the DUI arrest rate is considerably lower. However, that is not the case across the board. Many residents will drive long distances to drink and then back home where they are more likely to be arrested for DUI.

Analysis of Drug Use: Wet vs. Dry

According to a report in the Washington Post, researchers from the University of Louisville found that dry counties are experiencing more problems with meth labs than ever before. So although their liquor laws aimed to solve one problem, it seems that it has created another. With less access to alcohol, residents are turning to harder street drugs to deal with life’s issues.

The report theorized that if those counties were to go “wet,” it would reduce the meth lab seizures by about 25%.

Why Do Dry Counties Go Wet

The primary reason a community decides to go wet after being dry is to boost the economy. It boils down to money. Bars and establishments that sell alcohol are good for business and make a lot of money. It also helps local tourism. Visitors from out of town might be turned off by the idea that they can’t grab a drink while on vacation.

One study showed that if county in Arkansas had been wet when they were dry, just since 2010 they would be $78 million richer.

Other reasons that a community decides to go wet is convenience and taking back control. Residents especially older ones who have less mobility don’t like having to travel outside city limits to get a drink. However, one caveat exists that there is a direct relation between accessibility and consumption rates for liquor.

Blue Laws

Blue laws go back as far as 1617 in Virginia when they required residents to attend church on Sunday. Present day blue laws exist in America for both religious and public safety reasons. Blue laws limit the sale of alcohol on Sundays or at particular times of the day. There is a lot of debate about whether or not blue laws are effective in hindering alcohol abuse and crime.

Impulsivity is linked to excessive drinking, and by limiting the sale of liquor on Sundays; the perception is that public safety is less of an issue on those days. Twelve U.S. states still do not allow any alcohol to be sold on Sundays.

Do Sunday Liquor Laws Impact Crime?

According to research performed by NCBI, there is a direct link between crime and Sunday liquor laws. When repealed, crime rates have risen in hundreds of communities and in other countries studied.

A study performed in Mexico in the 1980s showed an increase of 29% more alcohol-related crimes and a 42% increase in crash fatalities on Sunday after repealing their blue laws.

Conversely, other research performed in Ontario showed an increase in alcohol consumption on Sundays but a decrease on Saturday, so the crime rate overall evened out.

Final Thoughts

The battle between dry and wet counties is a complex one. There is no clear winner or loser when it comes to crime, DUIs and car crashes. Although data exists to support both arguments, it appears that the situation is very different in places all over the country. There are so many other factors involved that there is not a clear indicator of whether or not limiting the sale of alcohol solves anything.

In some cases it creates other problems. What is clear is that Americans like to drink and living in a dry community will not stop them. Some will go to any lengths to get their fix. The decision to go wet or dry must be determined by each community individually and how it fits the needs of the residents.